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I never thought I’d consider doing a program in my own city over the summer. Whether DukeEngage or an internship, I always imagined I’d be off somewhere new. But all this time, there were incredible programs, organizations, and opportunities right in my backyard that I might have overlooked. 

In this way, maybe pandemic conditions had a thin silver lining for me. 

This experience opened my eyes to how deeply I appreciate the city I grew up in. Miami. The city where cultures combine like a vibrant mosaic. The city where a rooster crossing the street is not a joke, but a common occurrence. The city where the sun shines and palm trees sway, but a hurricane might be on its way. Literally—there’s one stirring up in the Atlantic as I type. 

I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed talking about this place or how special it was until I arrived at Duke. “You’re from Miami?” people would ask enthusiastically, and with faces that expected me to say more. I usually just answered, “Yeah. It’s pretty cool.”

But the more I’ve thought and talked about it, the more I realize how unique of a place it actually is. As part of our program, three of my peers and I delivered a presentation about Miami. We talked about it’s history, demographics, culture, and fun places to visit. By the end, I’m sure all my teammates were thinking the same thing…”Ok, Kaylee. We get it, you’re from Miami.”

As we shared how only about 13% of the city’s population is white non-Hispanic—with nearly 70% of the population identifying as Hispanic—I reflected on how typical it is for me to hear Spanish before English. 

And how having arroz con frijoles or mariquitas in your lunch box was never seen as weird. In fact, if you didn’t like croquetas or empanadas people would probably give you a funny face. Words can’t describe how much I miss the food here when I’m at Duke. 

I’ve never felt out of place here. In fact, living in this city has made me want to embrace and wear my Cuban culture, rather than suppress it. 

I write this fully aware that many have not had the opportunity to celebrate their backgrounds freely, including groups in Miami. 

I’m the first to say that Miami is not free of flaws and there’s still much progress to be made. Gentrification, racism, violence, and unaffordable housing are just a few of the issues that people here are facing daily. 

But in this post I want to celebrate Miami. I want to celebrate the colorful streets in Little Havana and Little Haiti. I want to celebrate the reggaeton that emanates from people’s open car windows as we sit in Miami traffic. I want to celebrate the lush greenery that adorns each street and the mango trees in nearly every neighbor’s yard.

Miami is far from perfect. But Miami is my home.